Meade ETX 90 Observer Telescope Review

Meade Instruments is the largest manufacturer of telescopes for amateur astronomers. With over 20 years on the market, the Meade ETX-90 was originally marketed as a cheap alternative to the beloved Questar. The ETX has now gone through at least 6 versions: RA, EC, AT, Premiere Edition, AT again, and now the Observer model.

During its tenure, production has shifted from the USA, then to Mexico, then to China. Meade has undergone numerous internal restructurings. The ETX-90 Observer shares literally nothing with the original ETX which debuted in 1996. 

So is it still a good telescope? Not really. Hence, I am doing a review of Meade ETX 90EC telescope.

Basic Features

  • Focal Length : 49.2 in. (1250 mm)
  • Focal ratio : f/13.8
  • Optical Diameter : 3.5 in. (90 mm)
  • Optical Design : Maksutov Cassegrain
  • Mount : Altazimuth
  • Highest useful magnification : 325x
  • Optical coating : UHTC
  • Corrector lens : Grade A BK7

Accessories

  • Eyepieces : 1.25” Super Plössl 26mm (48x) and 9.7mm (129x)
  • Viewfinder : Red Dot
  • Dovetail : Vixen-Style
  • Hand Controller : AudioStar™
  • Object Database : 30,000 objects
  • Tripod : Full Size Steel with EQ tilt plate

Overview

With a telescope weight of around 8 pounds, assembled weight of barely 19 pounds, and with a hand-carry case, Meade ETX-90 might look like a grab and go scope for both beginners and intermediate astronomers. But the fork mount is far wider than previous ETXes, so there’s a hit on portability. The cases for the scope and tripod are cheaply made and the case is huge for a 90mm telescope.

Optical Performance

The ETX-90 has always been a 90mm Maksutov-Cassegrain with a focal length of 1250mm – identical to the Questar and Celestron C90. In fact, rumors abound that the Observer is in fact produced on the same assembly line as the C90 – a fact that isn’t very hard to believe.

The ETX-90 has always performed well optically, and the Observer is no different. Unlike earlier models, the focus knob is nice and big and it suffers from far less image shift (primary mirror flopping around when focusing). 

Like all ETX versions and the Questar, the Observer has a port on the back which allows for attaching a DSLR camera or a correct image prism for daytime terrestrial viewing.

The ETX 90EC features UHTC coatings which allow you to get the most light grasp out of the scope’s 90mm aperture. However, it is still a 90mm telescope. You are simply not going to get much out of it deep-sky wise. But it is useful for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and target shooting as well. 

It has a built-in flip mirror mechanism, which allows you to do a 90-degree observation of land and sky objects; viewing or observation using 45-degree erecting prism; or just take photos using the optional T-adapter and 35mm camera.

But be sure to tone down your expectation about the outcome of the photos as its mount and drive system are just not made for it but rather for tracking and slewing for viewing pleasure only.

The ETX-90 Observer comes with 26mm(48x magnification) and 9.7mm(129x magnification) Plossl eyepieces of largely plastic construction and rather low quality. For an over-$400 telescope, this is rather disappointing. But you can still up the magnification to 325x by purchasing additional eyepieces or perhaps a Barlow lens.

As with any Maks, the adjustment to outside temperature tends to take a bit longer due to thicker corrector lens.

The optical coatings are made of Ultra-High Transmission Coatings in order to maximize the light transmission, ensuring the brightest images and the highest contrast.

The included red dot finder is terrible, but that’s excusable as you only need it to align the GoTo.

Mount Performance

Unlike previous versions, the ETX-90 Observer has a Vixen dovetail so one can in theory put the OTA on other mounts or other OTAs on the ETX mount. Unfortunately, this is all rather pointless, because…..

The mount sucks!

The ETXes have always had plastic, but the Observer takes it to a whole new level. Almost everything but the tripod legs is… plastic. Even the tripod spreader is plastic. The gears inside the fork are plastic. It screams “cheap”. Except that this telescope is anything but cheap.

You can do a cordless operation with its dual axis motor drive system and pushbutton electronic hand controller. The catch; you need eight AA batteries to last 40 hours operation. So you know the drill, get an external power source for an uninterrupted viewing experience.

I haven’t had troubles with the some of the sophisticated features such as Audiostar system, which is pretty simple to use – if pointless for a 90mm telescope – but many experienced users have reported ridiculously bad accuracy and refusal to align.

The scope is incredibly loud and consumes power faster than any other telescope I have ever used. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the AudioStar controller also talks in a blaring, robotic voice – a “feature” which is difficult to turn off.

The built-in wedge has no fine altitude or azimuth adjustability, so consider it worthless.

Pros

  • Portable and affordable
  • Maks need little or no maintenance
  • OTA is of high quality optically
  • No collimation needed
  • Good as astronomical and spotting scope
  • AutoStar GoTo computer system

Cons

  • Prone to fogging
  • Confusing instruction manual
  • Ridiculously expensive for what you get
  • GoTo is pointless, rarely functions, consumes battery power, and is plain loud and obnoxious
  • Everything is plastic, even the eyepieces

What's The Bottom Line?

Meade has been making unusable, bad GoTo telescopes since the dawn of GoTo telescopes. Unfortunately, the last of their affordable GoTo lines has now succumbed to the shoddy, plastic construction that is beginning to define Meade as a whole, as the brand slowly shifts towards “department-store” quality instruments.

To conclude this Meade ETX 90 review, I would highly recommend you not to buy an ETX-90 Observer under any circumstance. It is cheaply made, costs more than it ever should, and is nearly unusable.

2 thoughts on “Meade ETX 90 Observer Telescope Review”

  1. Thanks for the advise. Since 1998 I own a Meade LX200 UHTC and I love it. I always wanted an ETX90 and after 20 years from my first meade I was willing to buy the ETX for travel, but not anymore after reading your review. It seems that Meade is no longer a Hi-end manufacturer for the ETX Series, it is a shame that I did not buy my ETX back then. Now I will have to look for another option elsewhere. Can someone please give me options for a travel telescope? Thanks.

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Author Bio

Zane Landers

Zane Landers

Zane is an amateur astronomer from Connecticut. He has been featured in Sky&Telescope, National Geographic, and Times Magazine related to his telescopic endeavours.

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